The American health care system is in crisis. As politicians, lobbyists, and managed care experts spend years in heated intellectual exchanges on the subject, annual insurance premiums have increased more than 87% over the past 6 years, and most employers are either significantly decreasing their contributions to health care packages, or cutting them altogether. In fact, thousands of workers in this country lose their health insurance daily—joining more than 47 million uninsured American citizens.

In the meantime, spiraling health care costs, increased Medicare premiums, soaring pharmaceutical prices, and increasing treatment expenses are affecting both potential patients and rehabilitation providers. Also, diminishing reimbursements, facility closures, and unstable working conditions are encouraging many rehabilitation professionals to rethink their careers, at a time when they are most needed.

What is the solution? In theory, a national health care program would offer the necessary medical coverage to the uninsured, the underinsured, and the uninsurable. However, a multitude of political, financial, and logistic reasons make this highly controversial concept a far-off dream.

Why are so many Americans wary of universal health coverage? Many individuals have voiced fear of not being allowed to select their own physicians and manage their own care under a national health care plan. The fact is, with many existing health plans, their choices are limited. Under the current situation in this country, even if people have insurance coverage, often they can visit only physicians and specialists specifically covered on the plan—otherwise, the insurance carrier will not reimburse the cost. In addition, for those who do not have health care coverage, unless they can afford to pay in cash for their treatments, they cannot afford to go to the treatment provider of their choice.

In addition, with more than 70 million Americans heading into their senior years, and another 13 million low-income adults and children in need of medical care, the need for an accessible or national health program is paramount. It is absurd that in 2007, in a progressive country like the United States, anyone would need to make the decision to spend their hard-earned dollars on rent, food, and heat—or on lifesaving medical treatment.

We are living in a miraculous time in history, where information, communication, and scientific advancements offer the potential for everyone on this planet to live free from hunger, poverty, and many physical ailments. President Bush vowed, when he assumed office, that no child would be left behind—that should apply to their health care, as well as their education.

With this Congress making history with its first female Speaker of the House, the time is right for it to make political history in another area by finally ensuring that all Americans receive insurance coverage. By doing so, America will raise itself to the status of other leading nations that provide coverage to their citizens (such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, Denmark, Germany, Israel, Australia, France, Japan, Spain, and the Netherlands…to name a few) and help ensure that they receive better care and treatment options when needed.

Expect health care to be a critical issue on this year’s political agenda. It will be interesting to see if the occupants of Capitol Hill participate in a bipartisan effort to benefit the majority of US citizens, or if the “traditional” influences of party rivalry and corporate favors will once again lead to further complications in mending this country’s crippled medical system.

—Rogena Schuyler Silverman